The Learning Lunch podcast explores ideas, approaches and social innovations – creating opportunity for non-profit organisations’ teams to discover what others are learning and space to reflect on what these insights might mean for their own strategy and programme implementation.

Many NGOs work with children and young people – and mostly with children and young people that grow up in exceptionally difficult circumstances. Poverty and inequality often form the backdrop to a difficult and painful childhood marred by toxic environments of violence and abuse that leave children and young people traumatised. Waves for Change is an NPO with a very specific approach to dealing with trauma in children. Waves for Change share practical advice for all of us who might work with children or young people who are traumatised – whether that is the core focus of our work or not. 

Often our core work as an NPO is not necessarily to deal with the trauma of children, we might try to teach them reading, or we might provide school tutoring, but in the process, we discover how traumatised they are. We also may discover that, depending on the severity of their situation, we are often required to take specific action or at least to act in a very sensitive way, keeping in mind what they have been through and how it impacts their lives and their ability to do the work that we would like to do with them. 

Waves for Change (W4C) has been operating since 2011 and introduces surf therapy to underprivileged children. Co-founder Apish Tshetsha, who  leads the Waves for Change programme in Masiphumelele township, will explain how W4C approaches their work with young people, and Sinda Thakathani, who started off as one of the children participating in the W4C programme, but is now a W4C instructor and the first black South African to represent South Africa in an international surfing competition, will talk about his personal experience being supported through W4C and together Apish and Sinda will provide helpful advice to all of us who find ourselves in a position where we need to provide support to traumatised children and young people.

10 years ago, Waves for Change went to Khayelitsha to speak to learners about turning away from violence and drugs, and towards surfing instead, and that’s where they met Sinda Thakathani.  Ten years later, 25-year-old Sinda Thakathani is a surfer, stand up paddleboarder and instructor from Khayelitsha. He was recently selected for a stand-up paddling competition in Hungary – the International Canoe Federation Stand Up Paddling World Championships – he is the first black South African to represent the country in the competition. He has had to overcome a great deal to be where he is. He used to be terrified of the ocean but now it has become his best friend. Read Sinda’s full story as told by the Daily Maverick here.

Apish Tshetsha is the co-founder of Waves for Change. He is a surfer, lifeguard and leads the Waves for Change programme in Masiphumelele township, Fish Hoek, where he was born and bred. He coaches and facilitates the programme which impacts the lives of over 1 000 children through weekly surf therapy sessions.

Print a copy of this introduction here.

Here are some complementary bites to make your meal even tastier

Photos 1- 4: Waves for Change in action

Advice from Waves for Change to other organisations working with young people

The most important part of any programme is the caring adult. Every child’s experience is different, and they need to feel understood and listened to. It takes quite a special skill set to ensure every child at the beach feels special, appreciated and heard. Meeting children on their level, at their own pace, and recognising every little win is crucial. It’s not easy but it’s the most essential skill for any coach working in this field.

Perhaps you will also find DGMT’s infographic summarising how we can support the resilience of young people helpful

Click on the image to see it larger and to access even more resources to support young people.